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Jennifer Horn: Andru Volinsky's unconscionable intolerance

October 17. 2017 11:57PM

Last week, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky was the sole vote against a contract with a faith-based organization to provide services to recruit foster and adoptive families because he “suspected” they might not be supportive of gay and lesbian foster parents.

His excuse rings hollow, however, because a single phone call to the organization by a reporter from this paper revealed that Bethany Christian Services of Candia, the organization in question, does not discriminate against potential foster parents in any such manner. In fact, Bethany simply recruits families interested in becoming foster parents and the state of New Hampshire makes the decision as to whether or not they are qualified.

Mr. Volinsky’s vote is particularly troubling in light of the fact that he took a similar, if not even more aggressive, line of attack against Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut during his confirmation hearing. Volinsky tried to apply what has become his own anti-Christian litmus test against the then-nominee. In the case of Bethany Christian Services, Volinsky voted against a contract with an organization that has been providing services for the state since John Lynch was governor, and whose contract was renewed under the Hassan administration without question or concern.

Mr. Volinsky is not alone in believing that people of faith are incapable or unqualified to serve the public, in spite of the First Amendment saying otherwise. Last month California Sen. Dianne Feinstein made a shocking attack against a nominee to serve as judge in a federal circuit court. Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor and former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, was attacked repeatedly during the hearing for being Catholic.

Even though Barrett made it clear, in response to an early question from Sen, Chuck Grassley, that “it’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law” she faced repeated, pointed questions from Feinstein and others specifically about her faith, the clear suggestion being that a faithful Catholic could not be a constitutionally sound federal judge.

This sort of religious bigotry is hardly new. Our country was founded by those seeking respite from religious persecution in other lands and throughout the decades this prejudice has been directed at one religion after another. In 2017 it seems to have become high fashion to question the intelligence, qualification and sanity of anyone who declares their Christianity. It is an honest question to wonder if Sen. Feinstein or Councilor Volinsky would ask such demeaning questions of a nominee who was Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist.

In response to Mr. Volinsky questioning the qualifications of Bethany Christian Services to continue to provide services to the state, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald informed the council that the federal government had a long-standing policy of not discriminating against such organizations based on their religious character, and that the Obama administration had issued an executive order saying as much. Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers confirmed the relationship between the state and Bethany, and reiterated the critical need for their services “in part because of the depth and length of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire.” And yet, Volinsky still withheld his support.

Here in New Hampshire, we have a history of respecting our differences. The nature of our citizen Legislature is such that we still try to approach policy-making as neighbors working together for the good of our community. Up until now, this guiding principle has been evident on the Executive Council as well, even when there have been disagreements among its members. I worry, however, that these attacks against privately-held faith beliefs are denigrating the work of the council. It is not important that you or I share the faith system of Bethany Christian Services, only that they meet the demands of its contract with the state, which, according to Mr. Meyers, it does.

It is surely the responsibility of our Executive Council to question and review state contracts and those who provide services. But such questions should be rooted in legitimate concerns regarding the professional qualifications of an individual or organization, not in one’s personal biases against those who may or may not share your faith beliefs.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

Religion State Government Jennifer Horn

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